Sereno eyes legal moves to prevent rights abuse

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THE Supreme Court is looking for new legal measures to protect human rights amid the rising death toll in the government’s war on illegal drugs.

“We’re still in the process of evaluation on what still could be done,” said Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, who said the Court’s special human rights committee headed by Sandiganbayan Presiding Jusice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang is reviewing the sufficiency of writs to address possible human rights violations.

Sereno said the review will determine whether legal remedies available today are sufficient to address the spate of extrajudicial killings and human rights violations.

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno

During her annual meet the press event held in Cebu Thursday, Sereno admitted that she herself was uncertain if the writs of Amparo, habeas corpus and habeas data provided in courts would suffice to address the killings under the administration’s war on drugs.

“Are the present writs sufficient to uphold citizens’ rights? This question has been bothering me some time now,” she said.

“Of course it is our duty to do what we can, so how do we account for the number of violent deaths being seen right now?” Sereno said.

Sereno admitted that the hands of the judiciary are tied when it comes to cases of extrajudicial killings because it could only step in when cases are filed.

“The problem is we have a Constitution that places the judiciary in the last part of the process… Because of this sequence, we find ourselves timid because we do not do investigation, we do not file cases, so the limitations remain,” she said.

Of all the reported cases of extrajudicial killings, not too many were actually filed in court, she said.

She pointed out that the mandate to conduct investigations and file cases in court belongs to the executive branch.

“The executive implements the law and has the sole monopoly of the use of force. When force is used and results in death, legal questions come in and that are brought before the courts. But so far we have not had so many questions brought before us,” Sereno added.

Of the thousands of reported cases of killings in the war on drugs during the 13 months of the Duterte administration, only one has reached the Court in January.

The Supreme Court issued a writ of Amparo upon the petition of a survivor and families of four drug suspects killed in an operation in Payatas, Quezon City last year. 

It also issued a temporary protection order (TPO) that specifically prevented operatives of Station 6, which conducted the operation in the area in August last year, from entering the residence and workplaces of survivor Efren Morillo and other petitioners within a one-kilometer radius.

Last March, charges of multiple murder, frustrated murder, robbery and planting of evidence as well as grave misconduct were filed against the policemen involved in the operation where drug suspects Marcelo Daa Jr., Raffy Gabo, Anthony Comendo and Jessie Cule were killed.

Lawyers of Morillo from the Center for International Law also filed a petition last April seeking promulgation of a new rule—the writ contra homo sacer, which will provide for mandatory inquest proceedings in a case of death from either legitimate police operations or vigilante-style killing.

In another case, the Department of Justice indicted members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group team involved in the killing of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa and fellow inmate Raul Yap inside a sub-provincial jail in November last year for murder.

However, upon review, the DoJ downgraded the case to homicide that allowed the 19 accused led by Supt. Marvin Marcos to post bail. 

On Sunday, the Department of the Interior and Local Government called on local government units to use a web-based system to monitor the implementation of drug policies.

Called the Integrated Drug Monitoring and Reporting System, the web-based system collects, manages, and analyzes data and information on drug abuse prevention of various national government agencies, LGUs, and partner groups and organizations.

Incoming Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency head Chief Supt. Aaron Aquino said he believes controversies hounding the anti-drug campaign will be minimized if operations are solely conducted by the anti-drug agency.

“I’m hoping the time will come when the only drug operations will be handled by the PDEA,” Aquino said in Filipino on radio dzMM. “The police will be concentrating on other crimes such as theft and robbery and car theft.”

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